Our plans for the weekend are put on hold as we head for the hospital to visit a relative (he’s doing much better now). I’ve spent many hours waiting in hospitals but, as usual, I’ve brought my sketchbook and pen with me and this time a tiny pack of crayons. They’re a very limited range, just seven colours, but working out how to represent the range of colours reflected and refracted in the bottle of Harrogate Spa water takes my mind off a worrying situation.
There’s a hint of a sweet, nutty smell of autumn leaves as we walk through the woods at Nostell Priory. Redwings and a mistle thrush are feeding on the berries of the yew trees in the churchyard. Other mixed groups of redwings, long-tailed tits, blue tits, coal tits and a nuthatch are moving through hollies, beeches and a sycamores in the lakeside woodlands.
The fog lifts only briefly at midday. Although the hills of the Peak District rise above it, just as forecast, we decide not to drive for 25 minutes through such poor visibility in order to enjoy a walk there.
Looking for something suitable to draw in a drift of autumn leaves on a lawn in foggy Ossett I realise that they are all sycamore leaves; three sycamore trees stand alongside the little track beside the garden.
Rather than stand outdoors drawing the soggy pile, I choose one dry leaf that has been caught in the branches of a Russian vine and settle down to draw it in comfort indoors.
I remember when I was at the Grammar School here in Ossett and we had a few art lessons from a student teacher who got us to draw a close-up of a leaf – just a small section, about the size of a postage stamp, not the outline. She then got us to take it a stage further and work up a design from it. I stuck pretty much to what I could see, just adding colour, which at school was powder paints, mixed in a plastic palette.
Writing my nature diary for the January edition of the Dalesman magazine, I got sidetracked by the story of John Smeaton (1724-1792), ‘the father of civil engineering’. He only has a walk-on part in my article, where he described the rock in Coxley Quarry as ‘the best Blue Stone’ he had ever seen (I’ve come up with a theory of why he described the buff sandstone in the quarry as ‘Blue Stone’).
He visited the quarry in 1760 when he was acting as superintendent engineer on what would become the Calder and Hebble Navigation. The year before he had completed the construction of the Eddystone Lighthouse, which he designed to have the proportions of the trunk of an oak tree.
He’d also recently been awarded a medal by the Royal Society for his work on the mechanics of waterwheels and windmills. His enquiries into the relationship between pressure and velocity for objects moving in air led to a formula for calculating lift that the Wright brothers used in designing their aircraft.